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In the Midst of Life

Prof. Michael Kühn focuses on groundwater
Pic.: Karla Fritze

Pic.: Karla Fritze

Being in touch with the real world is a very important motivation for Michael Kühn’s research. He is, therefore, very happy about his successful application for a joint professorship of hydrogeology at the University Potsdam and the Helmholtz-Centre Potsdam GFZ – German Research Center for Geosciences.

His research is on groundwater in Earth’s crust – the most prevalent and widely used raw material worldwide – and all factors that might affect it. It is a particular challenge for researchers to analyze the impact of utilizing georesources in greater depths on the drinking water in shallow areas, for instance CO2-storage, geothermal energy, gas and energy storage sites. Kühn and his team concentrate on “the dynamic interaction between shallow and deep groundwater systems and their quantitative description”. For this they use computer-aided process simulations to understand the balance and exchange of matter in groundwater systems as well as the quantification of their available resources. Kühn, who studied chemistry, has deliberately focused his research work outside of the classical drinking water hydrogeology. “In the last years it has become more and more important to raise the question about the consequences of a stronger utilization of the deeper bedrock.” Among other things, it has to be decided whether unconventional gases that are difficult to access should be extracted from rock by using controversial fracking technology and what the consequences will be. Kühn’s aim is to connect drinking water hydrogeology close to the surface with the deep “reaching” reservoir engineering, two fields that have so far been separated. Only in this way will it become possible to assess the potential and risks of each project. 

This problem is especially significant and volatile in the federal state of Brandenburg, which has a wide range of renewable energy but also lignite resources. Kühn wants to find applicable solutions in collaboration with partners from the industry. Drinking water, the most important food, is irreplaceable. Given that groundwater is the only access to drinking water for people in many parts of the world, the scientist and his team want to contribute to maintaining and improving the natural resources of mankind. It is important to them that they take part in “finding answers to questions relating to the future in the area of conflict between human beings, energy, earth and environment.”

Before Kühn joined the GFZ he had also worked in Australia, where he used the “computer to prospect for gold”. Computer programs helped to “retroactively” explore the formation of ore deposits. Since 2007 he has been working in Potsdam, first at the GFZ as the principal research scientist in the section Environmental Geotechnique and later, until 2012, as Head of the Centre for CO2 Storage, where he conducted research on the geological storage of carbon dioxide and examined the processes of CO2 injection and migration in the subsurface.

Michael Kühn is among those jointly appointed professors who want “to belong and integrate” both at the cooperating institutions and the University of Potsdam. Apart from his research, Kühn enjoys teaching. He already supervised students when he was a PhD-student himself. “At that time I realized that I really enjoy working with young academics.” This is still true today. He regards it a challenge and a pleasure to impart knowledge and experience and to motivate. And moreover: “Nobody learns more from a lecture than the lecturer.”

PEARLS OF SCIENCE

Each of these research institutes is unique. Together they want to make better use of their potential. Eighteen leading scientific institutes in Brandenburg followed the University of Potsdam’s initiative in 2009 and joined forces within “pearls • Potsdam Research Network”. They want to use synergies dovetailing research and education even more closely. Furthermore, they want to raise third-party funds more successfully and develop fields of research geared to the future. www.pearlsofscience.de

Text: Barbara Eckardt, Online-Editing: Julia Schwaibold, Translation: Susanne Voigt